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Old 04-06-2009, 08:58 AM
ka-boom's Avatar
ka-boom ka-boom is offline
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Default Cowon iAudio 7 review -- with lots of pictures (no blurry cell phone shots)

Why I chose the Cowon iAudio 7
Well, here is a brief summary.

Years ago I bought my first mp3 player - a Cowon U2 when they first came out. Loved everything about it, but 1GB wasn't large enough as my music collection grew.

Bought a Creative Zen 16GB. After about 10 months with the Zen I broke out the old U2 and fell in love with the Cowon sound again. The difference is that big, so I had to get another Cowon. Just HAD to.

Bought the D2 16GB. I had it for almost 2 weeks and returned it. I will explain why later on in the review.

Bought the iAudio 7 16GB version (FW 1.17) and there is no looking back.

What comes in the box

Player, USB data transfer cable, software, ear buds, manual.

Truth be told, I've never touched the software, cable, or the manuals because I don't need either. I have about a half dozen USB to mini-USB cables laying around. This is the great thing with Cowons - the simple, almost universal USB plugs. I love it. The earbuds are just typical stock buds, with a foam shielding around each. Nothing spectacular.

First impressions
Coming straight from the D2, and even comparing them A/B/A/B the i7 is without doubt the better sounding of the two players. My first impression physically was that the i7 was about the size as I expected from the pictures; short and compact and a lot like my U2. Pictures of the D2 online do not portray how small that player is in real life, the i7 looks the same online and in real life.

Right out of the box I figured out the menu and interfaces in about 5 minutes. It's not exactly rocket science, but knowing Cowon's interface will shave a couple minutes off your learning time. While not the most cleverly laid out menu, it works for me and is NOT overly complicated like some reviews suggest. If they say otherwise, they take you for a big idiot.

I like the small form factor, it's a bit pudgey compared to wafer thin players like the Nano or the Zen, but I prefer the extra "heft". Besides, I'll gladly give up some size for a bigger battery life. Cowon mops the floor with Apple in that regards, more on that later.

It's also nice to have the FM radio on my mp3 player, but chances are I will never use it unless I'm at a ball game.

Screen, controls, buttons
Look, the screen is very small, there's no question about it. It's only about 1.25 inches, so don't bother buying this player if you're going to be watching movies on it. You'll probably go cross-eyed. The screen is sufficiently clear for being so small. Aside from the album art, I've loaded a couple pictures I've taken with my Nikon D300 on it and they look nice, not great.

I didn't buy this player for watching movies, displaying pictures, or staring at album art so I turned the album art off so I just have white text on a simple black background. The text itself is very small, but there is a "fix/patch" on ABI to make the text bolder. I haven't installed it.

The "swing touch" is a breeze to use, and SO MUCH better than the D2 touch screen. The swing touch is a little sensitive right out of the box but you can adjust the sensitivity, mine is at LOW and it works flawlessly. I can cruise through the menu and lists effortlessly now, and much faster than any other player I've owned. You can move your finger up and down on the slider and the menu scrolls accordingly. Or, you can just press and hold one end of the slider and the menu scrolls and scrolls until you release your touch. This makes scrolling through an entire library VERY easy and quick. It really makes Apple's circular scroll look silly, sorry Apple fanboys.

The "touch buttons" are: fwd/rev or ffw/rwnd or scroll up/down, and a play/pause button. There are 3 tactile buttons on top: power, menu, and volume +/-. There is a mic hole on top as well. The power button has a "hold" function so you can lock out the swing touch from accidental moves. This is nice for the gym. On one end is the headphone out port and the other end is the charging port.

Why the i7 is better than the D2 (for me)
Build - I returned the D2 because physically, it wasn't for me. Although it looks swank and fancy with it's new age touch screen it was just too delicate for my needs. I was constantly afraid I would damage the screen by either puncturing it or scratching. I just can't throw the D2 in my pocket with my cell phone - I can with my i7. Plus, the D2 is larger than the i7 which makes it less portable to use in the gym, for example. I would never think about using the D2 at the gym because I would be too afraid of putting it in my pocket and the sweat/moisture ruining the screen, or other damages. The touch screen on the D2 just isn't "all that" like I was expecting. It wasn't as accurate as I was hoping for. I have average size hands and I was extremely annoyed with it. Trying to navigate the D2 while driving is a NIGHTMARE.

I'm also an avid mountain biker, I would never consider bringing the D2 as I hit the trails - it's just too delicate. I can throw my i7 in my pocket, stick it in a pocket on my Camelback, and not worry about it. Hell, if it fell out while riding I still wouldn't worry. I would have a stroke if the D2 fell out onto the trail. I bought a clear hard case for the i7 and think it looks great, and protects nicely.

D2 vs. i7 sound - To my ears the i7 sounds much warmer, fuller, and more robust compared to the D2. Before I bought the D2 I read many reviews that said it has a "cold, analytical" sound and to their credit - they're right. Even with all the BBE and Mach3Bass turned on it never sounded as good as the i7. The i7 volume goes to 40 but I never go above 22-25.

I think the i7 has more "oomph" in the sound, it's more lively and "meaty" for lack of a better word. Although they are both Cowons, they do not sound anything alike. I usually flip between the ROCK and my own Custom EQ settings with BBE and Mach3Bass at about 4 each and it sounds perfect. Flat EQ is boring to me, I like a little thicker low end and warm mids compared to some. All of the pre-set EQ options sound terrible in my car's Bose soundsystem, but the Custom EQ settings sound great. Go figure.

-- I don't have "bass roll off" graph charts or anything like that, I don't wear a pocket protector or live in my parent's basement - but the i7 sounds excellent in every regard. Clear highs, nice weighted bass, sparkling acoustics. Strictly audio sounding, there is nothing I would change about it. There is a very faint hiss on some albums, but nothing to even consider. (these are usually crap 128kbps files, or almost ALL Jefferson Airplane)

D2 vs. i7 battery - D2 claims "up to" 52 hours audio playback, while the i7 chalks up 60 hours. Both of these stats whip the snot out of Cowon's competitors. Apple claims "up to" 24 hours on the Nano [insert hysterical laughing and pointing].

To be honest, I use my i7 for 3-5 hours a day on average with some days over 8 hours and I charge my i7 about once every couple weeks.

File transfer
If you've ever transfered a file onto a USB thumb drive, you can transfer a file to the i7. It's that easy. When you plug it into your PC it is recognized as a removable drive, so just copy and paste the files into the music folder, or pictures/movies into their respective folders.

No silly propreitary software to use, no annoying syncing, none of that. If you like doing circular thumb exercises while being forced to use propreitary software to move your files around, the Cowon i7 is not for you. The notion of having to use a propreitary software just to move MY files onto MY player is insane and insulting. Copy. And. Paste. In your face.

I choose to browse by File Name, though the i7 does support ID3 tag browsing. I also browse by Folders which makes things so easy. I don't use playlists so I cannot atest to that. I have a FOLDER named "workout songs" with a couple hundred songs on it that I play in SHUFFLE mode that works really well. You can also set the boundary of your shuffle from single, folder, or sub folder.

In closing..
The i7 is the perfect player for me. 16GB is plenty of room for me, it's small yet durable, incredible battery life, fast interface, simple file transfer, multiple file formats, and sounds amazing. FLAC sounds awesome one it. Most of my mp3 and WMA are 320 or 192kbps files (with a few ancient 128kpbs) and they sound beautiful.

This is the best sounding player I have heard. This includes listening to my wife's 120GB ipod classic, her 4GB ipod mini, my brother in law's ipod touch, my co-workers Sansa Clip, and my own players. It goes without saying the i7 has far more customizable EQ settings that ipods can even dream of, and to top if off, it just sounds better. The U2 is the second best, but a distant second place. (the U2 sounds a LOT like the Clip to my ears)

If you are considering the D2, think hard about it. For some, the lack of a memory expansion slot is a deal breaker. The i7 is probably up your alley if you're not sure about touch screens or you want a small portable player. I solidly recommend this player.

Last edited by ka-boom; 04-06-2009 at 03:55 PM.
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